Broker Stories: Jeff Sparrow, Mortgage Broker/Managing Partner, Castle Mortgage Group
“To my strongest lending partner, if you’re not the lead dog, the view never changes. Congratulations on the first 30 years. Here’s to another 30. Keep up the good work.”
Jeff Sparrow has been in the mortgage industry since 2001. He broke out on his own in 2002 as Mortgage Intelligence, which was sold in 2008. He then created Castle Mortgage Group, and joined national super broker The Mortgage Group. Starting with himself and an assistant, Jeff has grown the business to include 40 brokers, six administrative staff and two locations in Manitoba, in Steinbach and Winnipeg. Jeff’s approach focuses on education first – teaching consumers about the choices available in the industry, as well as the different facets of home ownership, including lawyers, appraisers and home insurance.
Jeff shares his perspectives on what he views as the most significant changes in the industry, what has contributed to First National’s longevity and what he values most about his relationship with First National.
What are the most significant changes that you’ve seen in the industry during the course of your career?
JS: I’ve seen the pendulum swing from one extreme to the other. We’ve gone from the Wild West, where you could write a mortgage on what you wanted, to strict compliance and underwriting requirements. The process has definitely become more complex, when considering the number of lenders, mortgage insurance companies and investors dictating lending criteria. I often compare the industry now to trying to solve a liquid Rubix cube. It’s pretty hard when it’s melting in your hand. From my experience, the difficulty of navigating the industry has increased tenfold.
During this time of market change, how has First National supported you and your clients?
JS: First National has been with me since the first day that I started in the business. I consider First National my most trusted partner. Remarkably, the people that I dealt with in 2001 are the same people that I deal with today. The quality and consistency of people are unmatched in the industry. For example, our BDM, Richelle Morgan, is one of the best in the country. She visits us on a weekly basis. And she constantly educates us on the latest developments from First National – new products, rate changes, product retirements. During these more uncertain times, it’s a huge advantage of have open lines of communication and clarity.
First National is celebrating 30 years in 2018, which is a significant milestone. Why do you think that First National has been able to endure, grow and succeed?
JS: The people. When Moray and Stephen started the company, they made reinvestment in the company a core priority. First National has always been on the cutting edge of technology, so much so that other lenders rely on the company’s process for servicing. And there has always been a focused investment on people. Everyone, from underwriting to fulfillment to funding, knows what he or she is doing.
I also think that First National has always been willing to evolve as well. It’s so important to keep coming up with new and better ways of doing things. First National has done that in many different facets of its business including hiring and training its people, reinvesting in technology and process improvements, being one of the first to go public and industry partnerships to navigate a new, more regulated landscape.
In the past 30 years, how has First National supported and contributed to the growth of the mortgage broker channel?
JS: First National is a major partner to the industry. The company is always heavily involved in national and regional conferences, educating brokers about the latest industry developments. I personally hosted and presented at a broker education conference in Phoenix, Arizona. First National was a huge presence there and was, of course, one of the first to jump in enthusiastically.
I also find First National’s strategic partnerships very valuable to brokers. Offering seminars in business building topics like social media marketing is a big value add. We share a common mindset about education. First National cares about more than just selling mortgage products. The company really makes a concerted effort to help brokers be better brokers and consumers be better consumers. We are very closely aligned in that sense.
When did you start working with First National and why did you continue to build the relationship?
JS: I started working with First National in 2001. The company was one of the first lenders to ever receive a deal from me. Back in the day, my BDM was Natalie Genay. She recognized that I was new to the industry and took extra time to help me understand First National’s process.
During the years that I’ve been in the business, it was a priority for me to grow my relationship with First National. I wanted to have face time with the staff in Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto. First National was totally receptive to that, and the door was always open for me. I value the relationships that I have with the management team and underwriting team. I feel like they continue to look for ways to help me grow my business on a day-to-day basis. And I do the same.
How has First National gone beyond service for you and your clients in the years that you’ve worked together?
JS: It’s just the way that First National does business day to day. First National just seems to do process and service better than most. We also have an incredible BDM. She is in my office regularly, which tells me how much First National values my business and our partnership.
First National is also committed to solidifying the relationship. We’ve had our underwriting team fly to Winnipeg to meet with our staff. They came to our office, spent time with us, which evolved both the business and personal relationships.
I also see evidence of going beyond service in how First National treats my clients. I had a client that lost her husband tragically in an accident. Eddie Stamp stepped in and personally assisted her with payment deferral while she sorted out her affairs. She took a common sense approach in a horrible situation and made it more comfortable and bearable for my client.
Speaking of common sense, I can have those types of discussions with underwriting management on a tough deal. We’ve forged such a strong, productive relationship that those difficult conversations happen professionally and openly. I often tell my First National team that they aren’t allowed to ever leave and that I am putting them on a no retirement clause.
What do you value most about your relationship with First National?
JS: I like knowing that someone is always there for me. I can pick up the phone, call any number of people that I have relationships with and have an open, frank conversation about whatever topic or issue that I need to discuss.
I also like knowing that there is always someone there for my clients as well. I believe that First National has a superior mortgage product in terms of pre-payment options, technology and flexibility. The Home Warranty Program is a huge perk, and I come to rely on it as a selling feature. So many of my clients have benefitted from that solution, and the feedback is always the same – I saved thousands. It’s subtle differentiators like that make a First National mortgage much more advantageous for clients.